Newsweek apologized yesterday for printing a small item on May 9 about reported desecration of the Koran by American guards at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an item linked to riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan that led to the deaths of at least 17 people. But the magazine, while acknowledging possible errors in the article, stopped short of retracting it.
The report that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet set off the most virulent, widespread anti-American protests in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government more than three years ago.
"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst," Mark Whitaker, Newsweek's editor, wrote in the issue of the magazine that goes on sale at newsstands today. In an accompanying article, the magazine wrote that its reporters had relied on an American government official, whom it has not identified, who had incomplete knowledge of the situation.
In a statement, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations."
The original account, he said, was "demonstrably false" and "was irresponsible and had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world."
Lawrence Di Rita, the top spokesman for the Pentagon, called the editor's note "very tepid and qualified." He added later, "They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took."
Damned right. Paul Marshall at NRO argues that this false, inflammmatory story could do more damage to the US globally with Muslims than Abu Ghraib:
Even if Newsweek publishes a full retraction, the damage is done. Much of the Muslim world will regard it merely as a cover-up and feel reconfirmed in the view that America is at war with Islam. It will undercut the U.S., including in Afghanistan and Iraq, far more than Abu Ghraib did. “We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive” Newsweek quotes one Pakistani saying, “But insulting the Qur’an is like torturing all Muslims.”
What's been left unsaid here is how a religion of peace gets itself into paroxysms of murderous rage over a report of a desecration of the Koran. Before there's an argument that these are only the fringe folk, in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran the penalty for desecrating the Koran is DEATH. More enlightened countries have long prison terms.
Finally the premise of this story seems off. Who would ever flush a book down the toilet? The only thing you would accomplish is stop up the toilet.